Climate change: a global health emergency
As the global climate crisis escalates, its devastating impacts on human health and well-being will also accelerate. No one anywhere around the globe is beyond its reach, though millions of people – notably, women, children, the elderly, ethnic minorities, people with pre-existing health conditions, and those living in poverty – are among the most vulnerable.
Changing climate conditions are increasing heat-related illnesses and deaths; changing the patterns of infectious disease transmission, making deadly disease outbreaks and pandemics more likely; worsening maternal and child health outcomes; and intensifying health impacts from extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, wildfires, and windstorms. Climate change exerts significant strains on health systems, simultaneously increasing demand for health services whilst also impairing the system’s ability to respond. The climate crisis is also rapidly deteriorating access to basic human needs such as food security, safe drinking water and sanitation, and clean air. The result, according to new World Bank data, is that a warmer climate could lead to at least 21 million additional deaths by 2050 from just five health risks: extreme heat, stunting, diarrhea, malaria, and dengue.
Unabated climate change is also expected to make the global goal of poverty reduction even more challenging to reach. A recent World Bank study estimates that climate change may push an additional 132 million people (more than half of whom live in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia), into extreme poverty by 2030, with 44 million of these driven by health impacts.
The extent to which current and future generations will be impacted by the climate crisis depends on the choices we make today. In collaboration with partners, the World Bank is committed to support countries’ efforts to respond to the greatest health challenge humanity faces.
Three key pillars of the Climate and Health Program
How the World Bank tackles the climate-driven health crisis
As the largest climate financier, and the biggest funder of health systems, the World Bank is committed to increasing its investments in climate-health action. Through its Climate and Health Program, it is integrating climate considerations through its $34 billion health portfolio which is already active in over 100 countries.
The World Bank is supporting countries to:
- Strengthen health systems to predict, detect, prepare, and respond to climate risks and disasters, by, for example, building climate-informed surveillance and early-warning systems, increasing health workforce capacity in climate-health, and climate proofing healthcare infrastructure.
- Support health systems to transition to low-carbon, high-quality service delivery, such as through clean, renewable energy for infrastructure and fleets, and low-carbon medicines and equipment. This is critical as the health sector is not only affected by climate change. It also contributes to the magnitude of the crisis, being responsible for around 5 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally.
- Address the root causes of climate change and its impacts on health by working across sectors to scale up efforts in, among other areas, One Health, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and energy efficiency.
The World Bank has already made significant climate-related health investments across more than 100 countries – with 80 percent of its investments allocated to adaptation interventions such as urgent nutrition support, surveillance systems, and emergency response centers. For example:
- In Madagascar, where malnutrition is one of the biggest public health concerns, we are using climate data to help target investments to expand food security and ensure we reach those most vulnerable to climate change. About 3 million children have benefited from this effort.
- In Yemen and Haiti, we are strengthening surveillance and early-warning systems to detect and report climate-sensitive disease outbreaks, such as cholera; providing treatment to respond at the primary care level; and working with other sectors to improve access to clean water.
- In Nagaland (India), we are investing in off-grid solar power solutions for health facilities. This has secured reliable energy to 175 health facilities that experienced daily power cuts before the project. These solutions have helped to ensure continuity of care and enhanced resilience, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.